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Most people will know Jo Nesbo's books through his very popular Harry Hole series. This time Nesbo has written a standalone thriller "The Son" (Sonnen in Norwegian) which IMHO equals if not surpasses his best Harry Hole thrillers. It is a pretty long and complex read and some of the violent parts may not be to everyone's taste.
Sonny Lofthus idolised his father, Ab, who was a police officer. At an impressionable age Sonny is faced with the apparent suicide of his father after admitting charges of corruption. His mother turns to alcohol and takes an overdose of pills. Left alone Sonny goes off the rails and becomes a drug addict. At the age of eighteen he confesses to murders he didn't commit in return for a promise from gangsters of a constant supply of drugs while he is in prison.
During the 18 years he has been in prison, despite his addiction, Sonny has become a charismatic and calm figure who other prisoners come to for absolution of their sins. One day a prisoner with terminal cancer makes a confession admitting that Sonny's father was murdered. This triggers off a major change in Sonny so that he can take vengeance on all those who had a hand in his father's murder. His main problem is that he is in prison, is a drug addict and has never lived outside as an adult.
While the main storyline is about Sonny it is also closely connected with the life of Chief Inspector Simon Kefas, who was a close friend of Ab Loftus. After Ab's death Simon's potentially brilliant career investigating fraud and corruption came to an end because of his addiction to gambling. Simon is now a reformed man and a dedicated leader of the homicide squad. On the home front his wife is rapidly losing her eyesight and Simon will do anything to save it. Along with a new female partner Simon investigates the death of a prison chaplain which drags him into looking at a range of crimes that eventually impact on Sonny's search for vengeance.
This is not a short read or sometimes a very comfortable read. At times it is extremely violent, gritty and noir. While there are corrupt gangsters and officials, drugs and multiple murders there are also characters that you can really care about. Sonny is an enigmatic character, at times innocent, loving, kind and compassionate and at other times violent and dangerous.
Nesbo has written a thriller with lots of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat (actually I went back and revisited parts of the book to be able to really appreciate the writer's skills). He is able to turn on all kinds of emotions - but it is the killing spree that is the engine that really revs the story along. Despite that there is one aspect of the dramatic ending gives some hope for the future.
This book demonstrates Jo Nesbo's talents at writing top class thrillers. This will undoubtedly be a top candidate for one of the best thrillers I have read in 2014.
My thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for an Advanced Reading Copy of this book for an honest review.